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30th Division, 117th Infantry Regiment, L Company

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Important battles of the 30th division in World War Two

 St. Lo

From all historical accounts, the 29th Infantry Division won the Battle of St. Lo, alone, but they had a lot of assistance from the 1st, 35th, and 30th Infantry Divisions. The Battle for St. Lo had begun seriously on July 3, was one of the most bitter, bloody actions of the war.  The 30th was assigned the formidable task of taking the high ground, a ridge, just to the west of St. Lo. This was accomplished by July 20 and thus denied the Germans of their prime observation positions overlooking St. Lo, which had been the main deterrent for the 29th Division to enter and liberate St. Lo.

        Cobra Operation

The next major task for the 30th was to create a major breach in the German defensive line, running parallel to the St. Lo-Periers highway. This was "Operation Cobra". The general plan called for a tremendous air bombardment followed by a huge artillery saturation. Then at H-Hour, the 30th was to move forward swiftly through the hedgerows, overcome the Germans main line of resistance, thus creating a wide breach. This would allow General Patton and his Third Army to exploit the breakthrough, swiftly proceed south towards Brest. The target date of July 24 and H-hour 1130 was set.

Because of heavy overcast Operation Cobra was postponed for 24 hours. But several squadrons had failed to get word of the cancellation. Aiming through holes in the clouds, one of the bomber formations dropped its load north of the highway. The 120th Regiment sustained 24 men killed and 128 wounded, the 119th had 5 killed and 28 wounded, and thousands more shaken, but the 117th escaped because they were in reserve at this time. Other divisions sustained losses, but the 30th took the heaviest losses. It was decided to execute the same attack plan the following day, July 25. 

It had been General Omar Bradleys understanding that the bombers would approach the target parallel to the American front line (which was clearly marked by the St. Lo-Periers Highway), so that any shorts or overs would land on the enemy. Without telling the army, the air force changed the plan and scheduled a vertical approach to the target.

The aerial bombardment was to begin at 0930 by 350 fighter-bombers, followed by 1500 B-17s and B-24s dropping four thousand tons of bombs. Another 350 dive-bombers would hit specific targets that survived the initial bombing, followed by a final blow of 400 B-25s and B-26s on the enemy rear areas. The infantry would jump off at 1100, as soon as possible after the bombers were finished. The first bombs fell at 0938, a little late but right on target. A gentle northerly breeze blew the dust and smoke of the first waves attack back toward the American positions. Many bombardiers, unable to see the highway, simply aimed for the huge smoke cloud marking the earlier attacks. As the cloud slowly drifted north, more and more bombs fell on friendly troops.

The 30th endured the heaviest bombing by friendly aircraft of the entire war. Over the two day period the 30th had approximately 88 men killed, 374 wounded, and 60 missing.  The front line units were reorganized as best they could. There were no replacements and no time for re-supply and re-equipping the troops.  Before a decision could be made, the attack went ahead as planned. The 30th made a spectacular attack. The Germans were unable to move up any armor or replacements to the front, so there was little depth to their line. Once it had been breached, the way was open for Patton to drive through. 

The 30th Division was soon moved off the line and went into reserve for the first time since their combat action began on June 15. After 49 days of continuous contact with enemy the men finally were given a break for rest and reorganization. There were showers, their first, clean uniforms and hot food. The rest was short lived; the 30th was called upon to hurriedly entruck southward toward Mortain. Their mission was to relieve the 1st Infantry Division, which was in a quiet defensive position, but holding a critical pivot point on Hill 314.

Mortain

In the early morning hours of August 7, 1944, the spearheads of three German panzer divisions rolled out of the fog and darkness to strike positions held by the 30th in and around the small French town of Mortain.  The German's were intent on splitting the American forces between Hodge's First Army and Patton's Third Army. They needed control of the vital road network around Mortain to allow a drive to Avranches on the coast.

Hill 314 had been recognized by the Americans as a vital defensive position and was held by the 2nd Battalion of the 120th Infantry.  The 1st Battalion was on the west side of Mortain holding hill 285. The 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion had established crucial roadblocks at L'Abbaye Blanche and St.-Barthelmy. The 117th Infantry erected an impenetrable barrier blocking the main axis of the German counterattack, two miles north of Mortain, at St.-Barthelmy. The 119th Infantry was to the northwest near Le Mensil-Adelee.

The Germans made significant gains early in the attack, even capturing the village of Mortain. Although they held Mortain, they had failed to gain control of the roads and the crucial high ground around Mortain. The directed artillery fire from hill 314 prevented this. The 120th held the hill and despite being completely cut off from re-supply and relief these infantrymen withstood the repeated assaults of combined German artillery, armor, and infantry.  

The most important function of the battalion's stand was the continuing ability to call accurate artillery fire from the massed guns of ten artillery battalions, 120 guns in all. During one German attack by the SS, the fighting was so bitter that the 2/120th was forced to call in artillery on their own position to finally repulse the attack.

On August 12th after six days, the 35th Infantry Division finally relieved the troops on hill 314. The fact that the 30th Division held out against such a major attack is amazing, but additionally important is that the German forces were fixed at Mortain, allowing air strikes, artillery barrages, and tank-hunting infantry teams to exact a terrible toll on the strongest divisions the Germans had. Close to a hundred German tanks were counted on the battlefield. By leaving the 30th unrelieved, General Bradley was able to begin an encirclement of the entire German Army Group B.

The division then pushed east behind the 2nd Armored Division, taking Nonancourt August 21, 1944. It crossed into Belgium September 2,1944 and advanced over the Meuse River September 11, 1944. The 120th infantry occupied Lanaye Holland and captured the locks intact and on September 14, 1944 the 117th and 119th advanced into Maastricht. The 119th and 120th attacked west toward the West Wall north Aachen and the 119th reached positions commanding the Wurm River September 18, 1944. The division attacked across the river between Aachen and Geilenkirchen on October 2, 1944 and the following day the 117th seized Uebach after house-to-house fighting as the 119th captured Rimburg Castle. The 2nd Armored Division assisted the division as it continued its progress in the West Wall. The encirclement of Aachen was complete on October 16, 1944.

Stavelot and the Battle of the Bulge

On Dec. 17, a vehicle convoy carrying troops departed Aachen for the front. A few German planes flew over dropping flares and ineffective bombs. The 117th went to Stavelot, the 120th to Malmedy, and the 119th to Spa.  At mid-morning of the 18th the 117th entered the outskirts of Stavelot. Stavelot overlooked the Ambleve river where there was a bridge crossing. Stavelot was vital for Kampfgruppe Peiper to proceed forward. They encountered only light resistance and moved from house to house supported by towed guns of the 823rd TD Battalion.  By the end of the day half of the town had been occupied in addition to 3 Shermans of the 743rd Tank Battalion and the 118th Field Artillery Battalion.  At midnight a Tiger tank approached the town square and was destroyed by a bazooka round. The remains blocked the street and two ensuing Tigers were also knocked out with bazookas.                   

By midday of the 19th the town hand been occupied by the 117th. Two panther tanks were destroyed trying to cross the bridge by 823rd TD Battalion.  A German unit supported with three Mark IVs, light tanks, armored cars, and half-tracks attacked Stavelot from the west but was decimated by the 118th Field Artillery Battalion who fired over 3000 shells and had to cool their guns with water. Eventually the 105th Engineer Combat Battalion entered the town and blew the bridge making a major contribution to the defense of Stavelot. 

Before daylight on December 20th a hundred men of the 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment began to wade the icy waters of the Ambleve River.  The Americans used flares to light up the area and had little trouble picking of the Germans struggling across the river.  Intense fighting was seen by the 30th throughout the German offensive and as luck would have it the 30th was bombed twice by American bombers on the 23rd and 24th. 

                                 Last Days

The division launched a counteroffensive on 13 January 1945 and reached a point 2 miles south of St. Vith, 26 January, before leaving the Battle of the Bulge and moving to an assembly area near Lierneux, 27 January, and to another near Aachen to prepare for the Roer offensive. The Roer River was crossed, 23 February 1945, near Julich. The 30th moved back for training and rehabilitation, 6 March, and on 24 March made its assault crossing of the Rhine. It pursued the enemy across Germany, mopping up enemy pockets of resistance, took Hamelin, 7 April, Braunschweig on the 12th, and helped reduce Magdeburg on the 17th. The 30th would link up with the Soviet Army at Magdeburg on the Elbe River in April 1945.  After the war the 30th spent two months occupation duty near the  Czechoslovakian border.